WRIGHTSVILLE — Eastern York boys' basketball coach Jon Reichard had to remind his players that winning in style was no longer necessary.
Still, the Golden Knights probably would've liked a more convincing win in their District 3-AAA opener against Middletown on Tuesday night.
Fourth-seeded Eastern trailed 35-28 heading into the final quarter against the 13th-seeded Blue Raiders, with little reason to believe that a comeback was possible. But, it was actually Middletown's game plan to start the fourth quarter that helped the Golden Knights storm back and grab a 45-44 victory at home.
Coming out to begin the final quarter, the Blue Raiders (14-9) decided that they were going to try to eat away at the clock and limit the number of possessions. That plan backfired. Middletown began the quarter with two turnovers and two missed field goal attempts. That helped Eastern go on a 9-2 run to bring it back to within 37-35 with just more than three minutes to play. It also got the home fans back into the game.
At that point, it was too late for Middletown to adjust. The Raiders couldn't get into any offensive rhythm, leading to a final quarter when the Golden Knights (20-5) outscored them, 17-9.
“I think our game plan was up-tempo,” Reichard said. “We haven't said that in a while. We've been trying to slow Northeastern down and some of the other teams we've been playing, but tonight we wanted to get it, rebound it and get transition baskets. ... So, I think when we took the lead it stymied them a little and they stepped back and held it a little.”
Eastern took the lead at 43-41 for the first time since the end of the first quarter on two Broguen Nicholas free throws in the final minute. Two more Nicholas free throws one possession later gave the Golden Knights a 45-43 advantage. A Raider free throw made it 45-44, and then on the last possession, Eastern came away with a big final stop, with Jared Woods forcing a contested layup and then Nicholas grabbing the rebound.
“This whole team, we don't want this season to end,” Nicholas said. “We've been rolling all season and we don't want it to stop.”
It was arguably one of Eastern's worst games all year. The Knights struggled to get into any offensive rhythm once the first quarter ended with Eastern holding a 12-11 advantage. Reichard had to juggle his lineup for much of the night, with Nicholas forced to sit at the end of the first and into the second quarter with two fouls. Woods played very little in the second quarter and missed all of the third quarter after picking up four fouls in the opening 10 minutes of basketball, one of which was a technical.
Still, the Knights managed to go into the halftime break level at 21-21 thanks to a Nicholas 3-pointer at the buzzer. But, coming out to begin the third quarter, it was all about the Raiders. They opened the biggest lead of the night at 35-25 late in the third quarter.
“I thought our body language was poor at times,” Reichard said. “I thought our deer-in-the-headlights look was a little bit obvious.”
With Nicholas being double teamed and face-guarded off the ball, it was tough for him to get anything going throughout the third and into the fourth. That's when the Knights got a major contribution from an unlikely source in Colby Shimmel, who scored five huge points off the bench and grabbed several key boards to keep offensive possessions alive down the stretch.
Nicholas finished with a team-high 19 points for Eastern, including going 8 for 8 from the free throw line, four of which came in the final minute. Jared Achterberg added 11 points. Middletown was led by sophomore standout Ryan Hughes, who finished with 22 points.
The Golden Knights advance to Friday night's quarterfinal round against No. 5 seed ELCO, which defeated Steel-High on Tuesday night, 80-58.
“I'm really not even happy right now,” Nicholas said. “I'm more relieved than happy, and it shouldn't be that way.”
Friday's game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. at Hershey High School.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org